MPs last week debated the Assisted Dying Bill which has sharply divided opinion throughout the country. My own position on this subject was that I had an open mind and was sympathetic to the very difficult experiences people talked about when their own family members had died in pain. However, I always had concerns about the safeguards and whether they would be sufficient to prevent abuse of the rules with people coerced into agreeing to an assisted suicide. What I found as I heard more representations and speeches was that that the most compelling arguments against this Bill related to how this could change us as a society and our attitude to not only those who are terminally ill, but to anyone who is vulnerable. The hospice system does do great work and many people in receipt of palliative care have peaceful deaths, but it is not universally available, nor are all of the treatments that may cure or halt the progress of a disease. Only this year the Government have stopped some cancer drugs being available on the NHS and I personally fear that we could see a gradual creeping in of assisted suicide being seen as a cheaper option.
There were also many practical concerns about the Bill, it states that assisted dying would only be available when a condition cannot be reversed by treatment and the patient has less than six months to live. Such prognosis are incredibly hard to make accurately. Many Doctors will have differ in opinion on whether treatment is available and we all know of people who have been given a certain amount of time to live and have then lived for many years. Doctors are also required, under the Bill, to make judgements on non-clinical matters which I do not believe they have the time or skills to do, which may be why the majority of the medical profession are opposed to the Bill. I counted five separate matters of a non-clinical nature that a Doctor needs to be satisfied on including that the patient has a "settled intention" and is free from "duress".
Given the number of MPs who voted against the Bill it is unlikely that it will be made a law in the foreseeable future. That does not mean that the issues raised by the Bill, particularly in relation to our attitudes towards end of life treatment and care, will go away and I hope that MPs who argued in either side will reflect on some of the pressures that lead to people thinking death is the best option for them.
Last week I also visited the Embrace Contact Centre based in St Thomas’ & All Saints Church on Whitby Road. They provide a valuable service helping reunite parents with their children when families break up. With a closely supervised and relaxing environment I was hugely impressed with the facilities and commitment of the volunteers to enabling family contact to be retained in difficult times. If you know of someone who might benefit from this service please contact my office for further details.